Barak doesn't rule out Palestinian state
Jerusalem: 'Our capital forever'
July 18, 1999
WASHINGTON -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has left open the possibility of a Palestinian state but will not cede any part of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
In the middle of his first visit to the U.S. as a head of state, Barak discussed the Mideast peace process on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.
"I am not a prophet. I am the leader of Israel," Barak said. "When the time comes, the Palestinians will have to negotiate with us what kind of entity is shaped for them in a context, a wider context, of all the other issues that are on the table."
The recently elected Israeli prime minister has mandated an accelerated resumption of peace efforts in the Middle East.
In the interview, Barak was firm on the possibility of dividing Jerusalem: "A united, sovereign Jerusalem is our capital and will remain so forever."
The Israeli prime minister met U.S. President Bill Clinton on Thursday at Camp David, the presidential retreat where President Jimmy Carter brokered a peace agreement between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978.
Barak declined to discuss the issue of extending the borders of present-day Jerusalem because of "the very delicate negotiations that we have to run with the Palestinians."
Barak said he did not expect Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, notwithstanding Clinton's stated wishes that they be allowed to do so.
No withdrawal to '67 borders
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said Barak had told Clinton of his "red lines" in a final peace deal with the Palestinians: Israel would not withdraw to its pre-war border of 1967, when it captured the West Bank and Gaza; Jerusalem would remain united under Israeli rule; most Jewish settlers would remain in West Bank blocs; and Israel would not allow an international army west of the Jordan River.
Barak has promised to withdraw troops from south Lebanon within a year -- a step that requires progress in peace- making negotiations with Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon.
Barak said Israel's policy on returning the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967, hinged on President Hafez Assad's stance on a wide range of other issues, including security arrangements and possible economic cooperation.
"We fully realize that on the way to peace we will have to make compromises, but it is too early to define what kind of compromises," Barak said. "We will define it once we realize what President Assad is ready to give."
Barak said he did not think U.S. troops would be needed on the Golan Heights to police any future peace deal there, although "maybe there will be a need for a few dozens of foreign observers."
A breakthrough in 15 months?
Barak's chief-of-staff, Danny Yatom, said both Barak and Clinton believed peace breakthroughs with Syria and the Palestinians were possible before U.S. elections in November 2000.
"The estimate is that within around 15 months, about a year and a half, we'll be able to say if we reached a breakthrough or not. I hope we'll reach a breakthrough," Yatom told Israel Radio.
Clinton wants Barak to move quickly to implement October's Wye River land-for-security accord, which requires Israel to turn over an additional 13.1 percent of Israeli-occupied West Bank land to Palestinian control in exchange for a stronger clampdown on terrorists by the Palestinians.
Barak's six-day visit to the United States winds up Tuesday after a second round of talks in Washington with Clinton and administration officials.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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